During an in-depth interview for my PhD thesis, I was making a remark that older Malay people whom I met in England seems to be active and appeared younger than their chronological age.
One of the participants, Mr Jamal Hakim (not his real name) seemed to agree to my statement. Mr Jamal associated it to the cold weather in England. He said, "I think it is the weather and food. Hot weather is not good. If you take two pieces of meat, one you put in a refrigerator and one you put in hot temperature, the one in the fridge will last longer".
Another participant, a 66 years old housewife said, "They [her friend in Malaysia] look worn out. They said the weather here is good, that was why I look young for my age".
When we talk about images of old age, the concern is the various arrays of images perceived by public. This is important as it can lead to negative or positive perception. This further lead to the development of positive and negative attitudes towards older people.
An example of 'negative' connotation to older people is the sign used to tell people to slow down their vehicle in areas where there are many elderly residents. The sign used, be it in England or Malaysia, is the figure of two older person using walking stick. To me this type of sign must not be used as a universal indicator for old age. There are many elderly who do not need to use walking stick at the age of 70s or 80. Perhaps we need to make a competition for the best figure to indicate older people.
Another common association is illness. When ever people talk about elderly, they will say that elderly usually have many illnesses and that they are a burden to the government and community. We must be very careful in making ageism statements such as this. We must not consider older people as homogenous. They are in reality a very heterogenous group with different background.
In order to promote active and healthy living, the images of older people must be very positive.